Essay // Psychology: Causes of Aggressive Behaviour in Human Primates

Aggression has been studied in experimental and naturalistic settings, however its definition has caused a lot of controversy in terms of precision among researchers. Some behaviours such as physically pushing, shoving and striking may be qualified as aggressive, while in other situations it may also include ostracizing individuals – which has proven to produce aggressive reactions (DeWall, Twenge, Bushman, Im and Williams, 2010; Wesselmann, Butler, Williams and Pickett, 2010; Warburton, Williams and Cairns, 2006; Williams and Warburton, 2003). What is defined as aggressive is believed to be partly shaped by societal and cultural norms, for example, among the Amish of Pennsylvania – ostracism is considered as incredibly harsh, whereas among gang subcultures mutilation and murder may be seem as commonplace [situational].

Uk Riots

Riot police face a mob in Hackney, North London on August 8, 2011. Riot police faced off with youths in fresh violence in London in the third day of disorder after some of the worst rioting in the British capital in years. The riots broke out in the North London district of Tottenham on August 6, following a protest against the death of a local man in a police shooting, and the violence spread to other parts of the city on August 7. AFP PHOTO/KI PRICE

Finding the reasons behind acts of violence among humans is generally explored through three major theoretical perspectives:

  • Biological Theories

  • Biosocial Theories

  • Social Theories

The biological explanations sides with the nature debate of the nature-nurture controversy where most social psychologists tend to disagree, since some theories seem like a threat to any form of social theory. Biological researchers assume aggression to be part of every human organism as is thus an innate action tendency where modification of the behaviour is possible [but not the organism itself]; an instinct defined by Riopelle (1987) that is goal directed and terminates in a specific outcome, beneficial to the individual and its species, adapted to a normal environment, shared by most members of the species, developed in clear ways during maturation, and is unlearned on the basis of individual experience. All major three approaches relating to the biological model have argued that aggression is an inherent part of human nature programmed at birth to manifest in a particular way.

inUtero

The first biological theory proposed by Sigmund Freud in Beyond the pleasure principle (1920/1990) proposed from the model of the Psychodynamic theory that human aggression stems from Thanatos, the ‘Death Instinct’ which is the opposition to Eros, ‘Life Instinct’. Thanatos is believed to initially be self-destructive but is later redirected towards others during development. Freud attributed the death instinct as a response to the atrocities of the First World War. Similarly to sexual urges stemming from Eros, Thanatos releases an aggressive urge believed to be built up naturally from bodily tensions which has to be released [one factor theory]. Later neo-Freudians theorists revised the idea and defined aggression as more rational, yet innate, process whereby individuals sought a healthy release to primitive survival instincts basic to all animal species (Hartmann, Kris and Loewenstein, 1949).

cheetahhorse

Ethology, which is a branch of biology dedicated to the study of instincts among all members of a species when living in their natural environment lead to three books [Konrad Lorenz’s On Aggression (1966), Robert Ardrey’s The Territorial Imperative (1966) and Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape (1967)] which made the case for the instinctual basis of human aggression on the grounds of comparison with animal behaviour. Similar to neo-Freudians beliefs of aggression as an innate instinct, the behaviour itself is elicited by specific environmental stimuli known as ‘releasers. Lorenz attributed survival value as an ethological argument to justify aggression, e.g. animals behave aggressively towards members of its species in the distribution of individuals and/or family units to make most efficient use of available resources [sexual selection, mating, food and territory]. Lorenz (1966) extended the argument to humans arguing an inherited fighting instinct.

chuck palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel, Fight Club, a transgressive work of fiction, captured the gritty battle of modern men dealing with their emotions in a restrictive & often rigid industrialised civilization that hardly accommodates the “humane” side of humans

Finally, the Evolutionary social psychology theory is an ambitious model that not only assumes an innate basis for aggression but also claim a biological basis to ALL social behaviours (Caporeal, 2007; Kenrick, Maner and Li, 2005; Neuberg, Kenrick and Schaller, 2010; Schaller, Simpson and Kenrick, 2006). Derived from rigid Darwinian logic, this theory proposes that specific behaviour evolved as it promotes survival of genes that allow an individual to live long enough to pass his/her genes to the next generation. Aggression is assumed to be adaptive and linked to living long enough to procreate, for example, the defence and protection of self and/or others [helpful to an individual and its species].

Darwin

Type A personality is a pattern of behaviour that has been classified after a research by Matthews (1982) which classified individuals of the category as overactive and excessively competitive in their encounters and may be more aggressive towards others competing on an important task (Carver and Glass, 1978). Under stress, Type A individuals generally prefer working alone as such arrangements may shield them from incompetent others and not place them in control of the situation (Dembroski and MacDougall, 1978). The characterisation has also been linked to proneness to abuse children (Strube, Turner, Cerro, Stevens and Hinchley, 1984) and to more conflicts in managerial roles in organisational settings with peers and subordinates but not supervisors [controlled aggression].

testosterone-production

Image: SmartHormoneBalance.com / Testosterone in men

To conclude with biological theories, the last aggression trigger explored the effects of hormones. Testosterone was found to have a small correlation of 0.14 with aggression in a study conducted by Berman, Gladue and Taylor (1993) where the testosterone levels were measured and the participants divided into Type A and B personality groups. More convincing evidence came from the Netherlands from two studies (Cohen-Kettenis and Van Goozen, 1997; Van Goozen, Cohen-Kettenis, Gooren, Frijda and Van der Poll, 1995) where increased or decreased proneness to aggression was observed in sex reassignment hormonal administration in transsexuals depending on whether gender change was female to male or male to female.

Biosocial theories emphasize on both nature and nurture sides of the controversy that emphasize the role of the Social learning theory and context, in some cases incorporating a biological element. Derived from the work of Yale psychologists in the 1930s, one of the theories is the frustration-aggression hypothesis. This links aggression to an antecedent condition of frustration and was used to explain prejudice. Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer and Sears (1939) proposed that aggression was always caused by some kind of frustrating event or situation, a reasoning applied to the effects of job loss on violence (Catalano, Novaco and McConnell, 1997) and the role of socio-economic deprivation in the ethnic cleansing of Kurds in Iraq and non-Serbs in Bosnia (Dutton, Boyanowsky and Bond, 2005; Staub, 1996, 2000).

ernesto che guevara

Ernesto “Che” Guevara (June 14, 1928 – October 9, 1967) // A doctor, author, diplomat, guerilla leader & military theorist who lead a revolutionary uprising against an oppressive & abusive system’s dictatorial military regime, and who became a symbol of human struggle for justice & fairness worldwide [A 2-part movie by Steven Soderbergh based on his diaries was released in 2008 (Trailer Available Here)]

Speculation over the ineffectiveness of other mechanisms to achieve socioeconomic and cultural goals is also believed as a cause of militant/terrorist aggression [e.g. individuals unlikely to resort to violence unless all channels of social improvement have proved ineffective (e.g. prejudice, adaptative failure, lack of skills, etc)].The second biosocial theory invokes the concept of drive and is known as Dolf Zillman’s (1979, 1988) excitation-transfer model. This approach defines aggression as a function of a learned behaviour, an arousal or excitation from another source, and an individual’s interpretation of the arousal state such that aggressive responses seem appropriate. Residual arousal transfers are believed to be transferred from one situation to another in a way that promotes likelihood of an aggressive response.

Lastly, Social Learning Theory [SLT] assumes aggression can be learnt as observed in the gradual control of aggressive impulses in early infants (Miles and Carey, 1997). It also features processes responsible for acquisition of a behaviour (or sequence), the instigation of overt acts, and maintenance of a behaviour. It was applied to understand aggression by Bandura (1973) where it was noted that if antisocial behaviours can be learnt, so can prosocial ones. French sociologist Gabriel Tarde’s (1890) book, Les lois de l’imitation, asserted that ‘Society is imitation’. SLT is unique in proposing that imitated behaviours must be seen as rewarding ‘in some way’ [learning can come from models: peers, parents, siblings, but also extended to media exposure]. Bandura believed aggression from an individual in a particular situation depends on his/her previous experiences of others’ aggressive behaviour, how successful aggressive behaviour has been in the past, the current likelihood that aggression will be rewarded or punished, and the complexity involving cognitive, social and environmental factors in a given situation.

Other issues relating to aggression include catharsis, which refers to the process of aggression as an outlet or release for pent-up emotion [the cathartic hypothesis]. Although it is associated to Sigmund Freud, the idea can be tracked back to Aristotle and the ancient Greek tragedy: by acting out their emotions, people can purify their feelings (Scherer, Abeles and Fischer, 1975).

Alcohol has also been linked to aggression through the disinhibition hypothesis which explains how the cortical control is compromised by alcohol that leads to increased activity in the more primitive areas of the brain. Link between alcohol and aggressive behaviour seems firmly established (Bartholow, Pearson, Gratton and Fabiani, 2003; Bushman and Cooper, 1990; Giancola, 2003) and controlled behavioural studies suggest a causal relationship (Bailey and Taylor, 1991; LaPlace, Chermack and Taylor, 1994).

 

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References

  1. Bailey, D.S. and Taylor, S.P. (1991). Effects of alcohol and aggressive disposition on human physical aggression. Journal of Research in Personality, 25, 334-342
  2. Bandura, A. (1973). A social learning analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  3. Bartholow, B.D., Pearson, M.A., Gratton, G. and Fabiani, M. (2003). Effects of alcohol on person perception: A social cognitive neuroscience approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 627-638.
  4. Berman, M., Gladue, B. and Taylor, S. (1993). The effects of hormones, Type A behavior pattern, and provocation on aggression in men. Motivation and Emotion, 17(2), pp.125-138.
  5. Bushman, B.J. and Cooper, H.M. (1990). Effects of alcohol on human aggression: An integrative research review. Psychological Bulletin, 107, 341-354
  6. Caporael, L. R. (2007). Evolutionary theory for social and cultural psychology. In A. W. Kruglanski and E. T. Higgins (eds), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (2nd edn, pp. 3-18. New York: Guilford Press.
  7. Carver, C. and Glass, D. (1978). Coronary-prone behavior pattern and interpersonal aggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(4), pp.361-366.
  8. Catalano, R., Novaco, R. and McConnell, W. (1997). A model of the net effect of job loss on violence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 1440-1447
  9. Cohen-Kettenis, P.T. and Van Goozen, S.H.M. (1997). Sex reassignment of adolescent transsexuals: A follow-up study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 36, 263-71
  10. Dollard, J., Doob, L.W., Miller, N.E., Mowrer, O.H. and Sears, R.R. (1939). Frustration and aggression. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
  11. Dutton, D.G., Boyanowksy, E.H. and Bond, M.H. (2005). Extreme mass homicide: From military massacre to genocide. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 10, 437-473
  12. Giancola, P.R. (2003). Individual differences and contextual factors contributing to the alcohol-aggression relation: diverse populations, diverse methodologies: An introduction to the special issue. Aggressive Behaviour, 29, 285-287
  13. Hartmann, H., Kris, E. and Lowenstein, R. M. (1949). Notes on a theory of aggression. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 3-4, 9-36
  14. Kenrick, D. T., Maner, J. K. and Li, N. P. (2005). Evolutionary social psychology. In D. M. Buss (ed.), Handbook of evolutionary psychology (pp 803-827. New York: Wiley.
  15. LaPlace, A.C., Chermack, S.T. and Taylor, S.P. (1994). Effects of alcohol and drinking experience on human physical aggression. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 439-444Lorenz,K. (1966). On aggression. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.
  16. Neuberg, S.L., Kenrick, D.T. and Schaller, M. (2010). Evolutionary social psychology. In S.T. Fiske, D.T. Gilbert, and G. Lindzey (eds), Handbook of social psychology (5th edn, Vol. 2, pp. 761-796). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston
  17. Schaller, M., Simpson, J. and Kenrick, D. (2006). Evolution and social psychology. New York, NY: Psychology Press.
  18. Staub, E. (1996). Cultural-societal roots of violence: The example of genocidal violence and contemporary youth violence in the United States. American Psychologist, 51, 117-132
  19. Staub, E. (2000). Genocide and mass killings: Origins, prevention, healing and reconciliation. Political Psychology, 21, 367-382
  20. Strube, M.J., Turner, C.W., Cerro, D., Stevens, J. and Hinchey,F. (1984). Interpersonal aggression and the type A coronary-prone behaviour pattern: A theoretical distinction and practical implications. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 839-847
  21. Tarde, G. (1890). Les lois de l’imitation. Paris: Libraire Felix Alcan.
  22. Van Goozen, S.H.M., Cohen-Kettenis, P.T., Gooren, L.J.G., Frijda, N.H. and Van der Poll, N.E. (1995). Gender differences in behaviour: Activating effects of cross-sex hormones. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 20, 343-363
  23. Zillmann, D. (1979). Hostility and aggression. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum
  24. Zillmann, D. (1988). Cognition-excitation interdependencies in aggressive behaviour. Aggressive Behaviour, 14, 51-64

 

22.01.2016 | Danny J. D’Purb | DPURB.com

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4 thoughts on “Essay // Psychology: Causes of Aggressive Behaviour in Human Primates

  1. “Negative beings might only escape their usually self-imposed curse by conditioning & willingness to give up on venom.” -Danny J. D’Purb

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    How Does Mindfulness Reduce Depression? An Interview with John Teasdale, Ph.D.

    All over the world, research has shown that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) can halve the risk of future clinical depression in people who have already been depressed several times. Its effects seem comparable to antidepressant medications. But how?

    In 2007, renowned psychologists John Teasdale, Mark Williams, and Zindel Segan penned the bestseller The Mindful Way Through Depression to explain how bringing awareness to all your activities can battle the blues.

    Now the authors have followed that up with a workbook, The Mindful Way Workbook, that includes targeted exercise, self-assessments, and guided meditations. I have the privilege of conducting an interview here with coauthor John Teasdale, Ph.D. about how mindfulness can reduce depression.

    1. How does being aware of what you’re doing while you’re doing it help with depression?

    There are a number of ways in which being mindfully aware of what you’re doing while you’re doing it can help with depression.

    Depression is often kept going, from one moment to the next, by streams of negative thoughts going through the mind (such as “My life is a mess,” “What’s wrong with me?” “I don’t think I can go on”). Redirecting attention away from these ruminative thought streams by becoming really aware of what we’re doing while we’re doing it can “starve” the thought streams of the attention they need to keep going. That way, we “pull the plug” on what is keeping us depressed, and our mood can begin to improve.

    Being mindful of what we’re doing can be a powerful way to weaken the grip of these thought streams, particularly if we bring awareness to the sensations and feelings in our bodies. By doing this over and over again, we end up living more in the actuality of the present moment and less “in our heads,” going over and over things that happened in the past, or worrying about the future.

    Being aware of what we’re doing while we’re doing it offers us a way to “shift mental gears.” Our minds can work in a number of different modes, or “mental gears.” We often operate as if we were on automatic pilot. In this mode, it’s very easy to slide unawares into the ruminative negative thinking that can transform a passing sadness into a deeper depression. When we’re deliberately mindfully aware of what we’re doing, it’s as if we shift mental gears into a different mode of mind. In this mode, we are less likely to get stuck in ruminative thinking – and life is richer and more rewarding…

    Full Article: https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/01/19/how-does-mindfulness-reduce-depression-an-interview-with-john-teasdale-ph-d/

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    “Joie de vivre” seems to be directly connected & heavily reliant on philosophical selection.” -Danny J. D’Purb

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    Don’t look for WHY things happen. Contemplate HOW they happen to be able to prevent them from ever happening again.

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    The ideas that live in us make up the reality we experience. By nurturing new concepts we can alter our state of being.

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    Is There a Cure for Narcissism?

    Are today’s youth really a more narcissistic generation? It’s a question parents, educators, researchers and media seem to be strongly affirming. And let’s face it, the barrage of status updates and “selfie” streams probably aren’t helping. Recent studies have shown that students today “score higher on assertiveness, self-liking, narcissistic traits and high expectations.” However, they also score higher on “some measures of stress, anxiety and poor mental health, and lower on self-reliance. Could this mean more confidence and less competence? Higher stress but lower performance?

    Full Article: https://www.psychalive.org/is-there-a-cure-for-narcissism/

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  2. _______________________________________________


    Evolutionary instability of zero-determinant strategies demonstrates that winning is not everything

    Abstract:

    Zero-determinant strategies are a new class of probabilistic and conditional strategies that are able to unilaterally set the expected payoff of an opponent in iterated plays of the Prisoner’s Dilemma irrespective of the opponent’s strategy (coercive strategies), or else to set the ratio between the player’s and their opponent’s expected payoff (extortionate strategies). Here we show that zero-determinant strategies are at most weakly dominant, are not evolutionarily stable, and will instead evolve into less coercive strategies. We show that zero-determinant strategies with an informational advantage over other players that allows them to recognize each other can be evolutionarily stable (and able to exploit other players). However, such an advantage is bound to be short-lived as opposing strategies evolve to counteract the recognition.

    Adami, C. and Hintze, A. (2014). Corrigendum: Evolutionary instability of zero-determinant strategies demonstrates that winning is not everything. Nature Communications, 5.

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    Non-Judging, Non-Striving and the Pillars of Mindfulness Practice

    https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/04/12/non-judging-non-striving-and-the-pillars-of-mindfulness-practice/

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    Violence and mental illness: an overview

    Abstract:

    This paper evaluates the relationship of mental illness and violence by asking three questions: Are the mentally ill violent? Are the mentally ill at increased risk of violence? Are the public at risk? Mental disorders are neither necessary nor sufficient causes of violence. Major determinants of violence continue to be socio-demographic and economic factors. Substance abuse is a major determinant of violence and this is true whether it occurs in the context of a concurrent mental illness or not. Therefore, early identification and treatment of substance abuse problems, and greater attention to the diagnosis and management of concurrent substance abuse disorders among seriously mentally ill, may be potential violence prevention strategies. Members of the public exaggerate both the strength of the association between mental illness and violence and their own personal risk. Finally, too little is known about the social contextual determinants of violence, but research supports the view the mentally ill are more often victims than perpetrators of violence.

    Conclusions:

    Several general conclusions are supported by this brief overview. First, mental disorders are neither necessary, nor sufficient causes of violence. The major determinants of violence continue to be socio-demographic and socio-economic factors such as being young, male, and of lower socio-economic status.

    Second, members of the public undoubtedly exaggerate both the strength of the relationship between major mental disorders and violence, as well as their own personal risk from the severely mentally ill. It is far more likely that people with a serious mental illness will be the victim of violence.

    Third, substance abuse appears to be a major determinant of violence and this is true whether it occurs in the context of a concurrent mental illness or not. Those with substance disorders are major contributors to community violence, perhaps accounting for as much as a third of self-reported violent acts, and seven out of every 10 crimes of violence among mentally disordered offenders.

    Finally, too much past research has focussed on the person with the mental illness, rather than the nature of the social interchange that led up to the violence. Consequently, we know much less than we should about the nature of these relationships and the contextual determinants of violence, and much less than we should about opportunities for primary prevention (30). Nevertheless, current literature supports early identification and treatment of substance abuse problems, and greater attention to the diagnosis and management of concurrent substance abuse disorders among seriously mentally ill as potential violence prevention strategies (25).

    Full Article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1525086/

    Football genius & legend, Eric “The King” Cantona gives an interview over his unique Kung-Fu kick incident & his views on looking forward and breaking the curse of “the prisoner of the past”.

    “Life cannot go on without a great deal of forgetting.” – Honoré de Balzac

    Testosterone in healthy men increases their brains’ response to threat

    Extract:

    “”We were able to show for the first time that increasing levels of testosterone within the normal physiological range can have a profound effect on brain circuits that are involved in threat-processing and human aggression,” said Carré, Assistant Professor at Nipissing University.

    “Understanding testosterone effects on the brain activity patterns associated with threat and aggression may help us to better understand the ‘fight or flight’ response in males that may be relevant to aggression and anxiety,” commented Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry…”

    Selective forgetting of unreliable information can have the positive side effect of reducing mental clutter

    Forgetting is often considered to be bad, but selective forgetting of unreliable information can have the positive side effect of reducing mental clutter, thereby making it easier to access our most important memories. Prior studies of forgetting have focused on passive mechanisms (decay, interference) or on effortful inhibition by cognitive control. Here we report the discovery of an active mechanism for forgetting that weakens memories selectively and without burdening the conscious mind. Specifically, we show that the brain automatically generates predictions about which items should appear in familiar contexts; if these items fail to appear, their memories are weakened. This process is adaptive, because such memories may have been encoded incorrectly or may represent unstable aspects of the world.

    Kim, G., Lewis-Peacock, J., Norman, K. and Turk-Browne, N. (2013). Pruning of visual memories based on contextual prediction error. Journal of Vision, 13(9), pp.930-930.

    Dr. Philip Zimbardo, Lead Investigator in the world famous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment speaks out

    Extract:

    “Philip Zimbardo, the experiment’s lead investigator, says the lesson from the research is that in certain situations, good people readily turn bad. “If you put good apples into a bad situation, you’ll get bad apples,” he has written…”

  3. Hallucinatory ‘voices’ shaped by local culture, Stanford anthropologist says

    Stanford anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann found that voice-hearing experiences of people with serious psychotic disorders are shaped by local culture – in the United States, the voices are harsh and threatening; in Africa and India, they are more benign and playful. This may have clinical implications for how to treat people with schizophrenia, she suggests. // Article in the British Journal of Psychiatry (http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/early/2014/06/17/bjp.bp.113.139048.full.pdf+html)

    The experience of hearing voices is complex and varies from person to person, according to Luhrmann. The new research suggests that the voice-hearing experiences are influenced by one’s particular social and cultural environment – and this may have consequences for treatment.

    In an interview, Luhrmann said that American clinicians “sometimes treat the voices heard by people with psychosis as if they are the uninteresting neurological byproducts of disease which should be ignored. Our work found that people with serious psychotic disorder in different cultures have different voice-hearing experiences. That suggests that the way people pay attention to their voices alters what they hear their voices say. That may have clinical implications.”

    Positive and negative voices

    Luhrmann said the role of culture in understanding psychiatric illnesses in depth has been overlooked…

    Full Article: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/july/voices-culture-luhrmann-071614.html

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